I bought my Isomac Super Giada after my older, disposable Farberware machine muttered something I interpreted as ďI want to go to the landfillĒ and began to fail me on a more regular basis than before.
A while back I had caught a glimpse of the KitchenAid Pro-line espresso machine through the window of Williams-Sonoma and its stately image was burned into my retinas thereafter. I thought it a happy sign when one came up for sale on EBay as I began to look for the ďrealĒ machine that I finally had the occasion to buy. I won the auction and began to speak meanly to my old machine, informing it of its imminent demise.
Unfortunately the auction turned out to be a fraud and was lucky to escape that fiasco with my money back in hand and firm resolutions to treat EBay with more respect in the future.
Shaken by that experience, I vainly tried to apologize to my old machine for the things I had said, but it wouldnít have it and stopped working altogether. That was the beginning of a long espresso-less month.
Clearly the situation had changed in nature, as I had absolutely no espresso at home for the first time in years, and my search took on a new resolve. Throwing caution to the wind, I bought the bright red FrancisFrancis X5 machine that I had had a crush on for years. I waited for its arrival with something akin to desperation but after I got it, nursed it for over a week without a single drinkable shot of espresso, I was nearly mad with frustration. I began to hate it, not because it was beautiful, but because it was beautiful, expensive, and a complete piece of crap.
Though at this point I felt like the world would be better off if I gave into my impulse to take a baseball bat to it, I decided to let someone else take their chance and sold it off on EBay.
Enter the Isomac Super Giada.
I was feeling somewhat shattered by my experiences to this point but had a new weapon on my side at this pointóCoffeeGeek.com. I found myself suddenly overwhelmed by the amount of information and choices that I had never considered; since the only establishement that retails espresso machines that available to me locally is Wal-mart, I would never have a chance to look at or test any machine before purchasing it and, after the FrancisFrancis experience, took a rather dim view of retailerís descriptions. I happened upon the CG review of the Super Giada and was intrigued by this dark-horse Isomac that I had never seen or heard of before. I read the handful of CG consumer reviews and threads and suddenly I was convinced; within hours of first laying eyes on the machine I had ordered one.
The next day I wondered what had come over me, lashing out on this machine so quickly, and braced myself for the machineís arrival. A few days later I found the machine waiting on my porch when I came home at 11:00pm; by midnight I knew that my long, unhappy search had ended with the arrival of the Super Giada.
The machine had managed to make its journey from the retailer and, I imagine, from overseas unscathed despite its flimsy packing in a single cardboard box. The machine was wedged-in by molded pieces of Styrofoam on two sides but the front and back of the machine were exposed, padded only by a rather economic layer shipping peanuts; the box itself was thin cardboard, not industrial strength by any means, and it is a miracle that nothing had happened to puncture it by the time it got to me.
Out of the box, I was nearly blinded by all the highly polished stainless steel that I had seen in the photos and I fell in love with the Super Giada all over again. The machine has a pleasing heft to it, over 20 pounds packed into a surprisingly compact frame. Sitting on my counter, with all its metal and square shape, it looked like a very solid citizen indeed.
Setting it up was a simple enough matter; I filled up the enormous 3-liter water tank and plugged it in, fingered the lovely toggle switches until I figured out which on turned it on, and settled down to read the instructions while I waited for it to heat up.
Reading the instructions, however, only took about 2 minutes because, quite simply, there are really none to speak of. Besides the diagram of the machine with its parts identified, there were only two or three pages in English. The first of these pages covered how to turn the machine on, which, having owned a couple of electrical appliances before, I had already figured out. The process of priming the machine and pulling a shot was outlined in a couple of sentences that instructed me to put espresso in the portafilter basket, insert it into the machine, and flip the appropriate switch. The next pages were filled with valuable safety advice, including the dire warning to ďdo not dip the machine in water, not any part of it.Ē Incredulously, the next page was in another language, and that was the end of the instructions. Suddenly I felt very alone.
So I faced my new machine only the most basic idea of how to operate it. I ran a thankful of water through the machine and waited a bit more. Seeing that the green light was off, it was ready to go.
These lights have gotten a certain amount of criticism for being counter-intuitive and difficult to see; while I agree that they are both of these things, I havenít found it to be much of a problem. The red light that stays on all the time is like many other appliances with similar red indicator lights, and while I have look at the machine closely and straight-on to see whether the green light is on or off, I havenít figured out to how pull shots from across the room anyway. Perhaps my kitchen is smaller than most.
The portafilter, on the other hand, has also been the subject of much criticism and, unlike the lights, completely deserves it. At 53mm, I have as yet been unable to anywhere that sells replacement portafilters or even filter baskets for this size; I have been frustrated by this already because while I am eager to go ďcrotch-lessĒ and take advantage of the elusive three-shot basket, I am unwilling to offer up my only portafilter to this experiment. Other machines priced similarly and even cheaper have standard 58mm group-heads and there can be no valid reason, in my mind, for Isomac to outfit the Super Giada with anything less. The fact that the spouts are cast into the metal rather than screwing-in just adds insult to injury.
But ignoring what it should be, the portafilter is heavy enough and balanced by a decent, if not ergonomic, handle; it seems to be well made.
Guessing wildly at the grind, I filled the basket with what I judged to be the right amount of espresso, and turned to the tamp that is built into the Super Giada. This seems to be a unique feature, as Iíve not seen one on another machine. I wanted to like it, but as it turns out, Super Giada owners have nothing to get excited about and owners of other machines have nothing over which to be jealous.
Turns out that tamping down on the espresso rather than up, as the tamp on the Super Giada necessitates, has more advantages than simply being traditionally the way that it is done. If nothing else I found it awkward, but experience has shown me that it also makes gauging the pressure of my tamp difficult and achieving a level tamp impossible. It is a total waste of time, so buyers should be sure to tack on $30-45 to the price and order a good 53mm tamp that will arrive with their machine.
So my first shot, while a little quick and a lot lopsided actually turned out to be completely drinkable. There was no bitterness or sourness, which I took as a happy sign that the temperature of the water coming out of the machine was adequate. I had timed an order of Intelligentsiaís Black Cat espresso blend to arrive just before my machine, and after adjusting the grind and pulling half a dozen more shots, I found myself pouring some lovely espresso with good crema and tiger striping. Not perfect, as they kept coming a bit quick and werenít quite as full-bodied as I felt they could have been, but very, very promising overall.
I put the packaging up in the closet, because I knew then that the Super Giada wasnít going anywhere soon.
The next few weeks have seen me making all the small, fussy adjustments necessary in operating a new machine. I was convinced of the uselessness of the built-in tamp early on, and the arrival of a stainless steel Lava tamp and a return to the more gravity-friendly method of tamping (down, for godsakes!) made huge improvements in my shots from this machine.
The machine even made its debut in society last Sunday as I entertained with it for the first time, and it did so with style and grace. Recovery time between shots was not inordinate, and while making drinks for 10-12 people was as time consuming as it would be on any other machine like this, it gave consistent results that I appreciated. It was quite a hit at the party. While I do little entertaining like this, I was very pleased and felt like it passed a final test in its initiation.
The drip tray design is unprecedented, and will make you forgive the machineís design flaws in other features; it quite literally takes up nearly the whole base of the machine and is well over an inch deep. It will change your life. The holes on the tray are just the right size, neither too large nor too small, and the whole thing slides out easily for draining. Whoever designed this part of the Super Giada deserves much respect and a raise. I would thank them personally if I could.
Likewise, the 3 liter water reservoir is another big feature of this small machine. This makes refills far between, but since there is no external means of monitoring the water level, I find myself nervously checking it far more frequently than necessary. This is a nuisance in itself and also because the cup warmer--the entire top of the machineómust be removed in order to check the water level or refill it. And since the warmer will fit a dozen demitasse cups, which is great, they all must be removed to service the water tank, which is not.
The asterisk-shaped steam knob is the only bit of plastic on the machine, and it seems to be made of some sort of bakelite or other hard plastic and is pretty inoffensive. There seems to be plenty of pressure behind the steam and the steam wand itself works fairly well, even if it is too short; this would be a source of frustration to me if I steamed milk very often at all.
The huge hexagonal nut in the dispersion screen is something of enigma; while it doesnít seem to negatively affect the machineís performance and I have been more than happy with the espresso from this machine, it is, as Mark mentions in his First Look at the Super Giada, morally troublesome to this coffee geek. I will be interested in what he has to say in his future Detailed Review. For now I watch it uneasily, unable to accept it as benign but also unable to complain about it. I canít put my finger on it, exactly, but Iím sure itís up to no good. Iím not much of a meddler as far as modifications go, but if I ever gain confidence in this area, that nut is on the top of my list.
On the same note, one of the small screws holds on the top-cover over the machineís innards came to me pre-stripped and has effectively prevented its removal. I donít have much business under there right now anyway, but it is going to take a bit of work to ever have a look inside.
All those square inches of mirror-polished stainless steel make this machine, which retails for about 400 USD, look like a million bucks. The toggle switches are a pleasure to handle. All this shiny metal truly sets the Super Giada apart from other machines in this price range, whose aesthetics seem an afterthought in design and are fraught with plastic, giving many a disposable look and feel. Though it represents an entry level espresso machine, the Super Giada takes itself seriously.
Of course, all that bright metal makes each finger print and watermark stand out sorely after each use. At first, the frequent polishing it required didnít faze me at all, as I felt something akin to the pleasure that Smarty Jonesís groom must feel as he rubs down the fine, sleek thoroughbred after a work-out. But Iím sure even Smartyí Jonesís poop stinks some mornings, and by now I find myself getting a little irritated with it sometimes. All-purpose spray cleaners and Windex tend to leave streaks on the machine and make it necessary to give the machine a hard polish with a dry cloth as it dries. My advice: keep stainless steel polish handy and expect to use it often.
Overall, the Super Giada has proven to be exactly what my first impression implied: a solid citizen. Its performance is consistent, and consistently good. For all the small faults in its design and the want of a few features, like a 58mm portafilter and a 3-way solenoid valve, this steadiness makes this machine an excellent value for its price. Is it the last machine I will ever own? Probably notóat some point Iím sure my chronic condition, upgrade-itis, will flare up again and Iíll be onto bigger and better things. But for now, the unpretentious Super Giada is more than enough for me and has put a happy end to my discontented search for a home espresso machine.